“THAT’S NOT REAL BARBECUE,” a long-ago guest announced to my husband at a long-ago pool party, although as I recall, the man did fix himself a plate. Jeff is not a grudge-holder, but he did hang onto that one, wounded for months. “Never you mind,” I told him. Repeatedly.
At issue was his smoking method. You see, Jeff likes a good sleep, and as such, doesn’t want to wake up multiple times during the night to tend to a brisket, as is often required when you smoke it in a traditional pit. So, some years ago he got a Traeger, also known as a “wood pellet grill,” which is electric but burns pellets to imbue the meat with the smoky flavor people love in good brisket. The meat is still cooked low and slow, without nearly as much tending. And as far as I’m concerned, it’s just as good as the stuff prepared the old-school way—its smoke ring as beautiful, its bark as toothsome, its flesh as moist and delicious.
Perhaps you’re thinking, This is sacrilege! She must be on Traeger’s payroll! What in the hell is a wood pellet, exactly? Also, maybe: How much is a Traeger, and where would one buy one, if one were interested, not that one is? To which I must say: So what? Nope! I’m not sure. And, finally: We got ours at the Texas Star Grill Shop on Shepherd for around $600.
The thing has paid for itself over the years. It’s like having a second oven. At the holidays, when we have limited space, we use it to smoke the turkey, and we’ve also fired it up to cook whole chickens, salmon, baked potatoes, all manner of veggies—you name it. Anything you can do with an oven, you can do with a Traeger, albeit with a tad more smoke. But I digress.
If you’re a barbecue purist, that position is, of course, completely worthy of respect. And you perhaps will be happy to hear that Houstonia’s experts, Timothy Malcolm and Gwendolyn Knapp, are responsible for our cover feature on Bayou City’s barbecue boom, not me.
I would note, however, that traditions are changing around these parts. Chefs might prepare their brisket to purists’ exacting standards, only to add the meat into a bowl of pho or serve it with mole. They’re offering their excellent barbecue alongside cocktails and crazy-creative sides served up amidst playful decor. They’re having fun, and that, more than anything else, defines the new barbecue vanguard in Houston.
And on that note, if you’re looking for a good time and the ability to make your own brisket at home, maybe don’t lose any sleep over what other people consider real ’cue.